Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers – #71 Johnny Hellweg
With apologies to Dayton Buller who was assigned #72, we took the day off in the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series because while Buller was at Triple-A last year, he’s really not under consideration for the big league roster and not on the 40-man roster.
That being said, we’re back today as we sit 71 days away from Opening Day. Today’s profile subject is the second of the three pieces received when Doug Melvin traded Zack Greinke away last summer. We’ve already profiled Ariel Pena, and now we take a look at…
Let’s get the first thing out of the way right away. John David Hellweg is listed at 6’9″ and 210 pounds. He’s incredibly tall and quite lanky as a result. For the sake of comparison, 2012 Brewers Kameron Loe is 6’8″ and Jose Veras is 6’6″ but they are listed at 245 and 240 pounds respectively.
The height is an asset in some ways, but can be a hindrance in replicating one’s delivery. That can lead to inconsistency in release point as a result of altered mechanics. That being said, Hellweg certainly is not lacking in the ability to replicate his velocity. It’s that big fastball that will be Hellweg’s ticket to the big leagues so long as he can control it.
The ultimate decision with Hellweg though is what role he will fill in his career. He was largely ineffective as a relief pitcher at times and much better in the rotation. This is an unusual split but not unheard of. If I had to guess, in Hellweg’s case short outings allow him to dial up the heat even farther and as he possibly overthrows his mechanics breakdown leading to wildness and resultant ineffectiveness. And when he knows he has to maintain his stamina and go longer in games, he might wind up being more disciplined. Now that’s not based on seeing Hellweg pitch in person but it’s something that has proven true before with other pitchers in the past.
What isn’t a guess is that when Hellweg moved from the bullpen to the rotation, his career took major strides forward.
In his first three seasons in the minor leagues following his selection in the 46th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Hellweg started only three games total, all in his first season of pro ball. The results weren’t what you would have hoped for a future star. In other words, ERAs just under 4.00 are just fine when you’re starting at the big league level but when you’re relieving or closing in Rookie ball and Low A, you don’t expect much in the way of a big league career.
But a huge fastball keeps you on the stove top even if you occasionally must move to the back burner.
The native of Ann Arbor, Michigan saw his fortunes turn and his stock begin to rise however once he began to start. In 2011, Hellweg’s first 13 appearances were out of the bullpen. Only five of them were scoreless outings and in three of those he allowed no walks, which is probably more telling. He had only four appearances out of the those first 13 in which he allowed no walks. Once the decision was made to move him to the rotation, he flourished.
He made 15 starts the rest of the way in 2011, and as his stamina increased so too did his innings pitched. Only two of his first seven starts reached 5.0 IP but then six of his final eight did. Hellweg had five scoreless starts and nine more with one or two runs allowed. Oh, and Hellweg did make one more relief appearance along the way. He pitched one-third of an inning and allowed six earned runs on five hits and two walks. It was a full commitment to starting after that.
Now then, as for 2012, Hellweg was a starter for the majority of the season as he pitched for both the Arkansas Travelers (Double-A affiliate of the Angels) and the Huntsville Stars. He made 23 starts in 2012 before the Brewers shifted him to the bullpen to limit his innings somewhat. As a starter Hellweg posted a 3.33 ERA over 129.2 IP. He allowed 111 hits and 69 walks against 98 strikeouts. As a relief pitcher, for the record, Hellweg threw 10.0 regular season innings (2.70 ERA) and 13.0 in the AFL (2.77 ERA). A reminder though was that all of his relief appearances came after a full season of starting and honing his skills in that fashion. That certainly could be a factor in his much better relief numbers in 2012.
I do have to mention that I thought it curious that they then sent him to the Arizona Fall League, albeit as a relief pitcher, where he made an additional nine appearances and threw 13.0 additional innings.The talk was that while Hellweg was going to the AFL as a reliever, he was still viewed as a starting pitcher by the Brewers.
But how committed to that idea are they really? I ask because there was talk from Doug Melvin that Hellweg would be considered for a bullpen role in 2013 with the big league club should he perform well in Spring Training. That might simply be a case of dangling the carrot in front of the horse’s nose, but it seems like an odd declaration to me for a player who clearly has performed better as the first man on the bump. Certainly a situation to watch come February the 12th.